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Tag: Kentucky

NCAA Tournament Prep Sheet: Volume I

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

Sooner rather than later, you’re going to fill out your NCAA Tournament brackets. So listen up: If ever there was a season to be a contrarian, this is it. Consider the weekend that was and the season that is.

file photo Neil Miller/The New York extra

San Diego State remains the only undefeated team in the nation. Michigan State, the preseason No.1, dropped out of the Top 25.

Penn State is tied with Illinois for second in the Big Ten (18-5 overall, 8-4 in the league). The Nittany Lions have qualified for the NCAA Tournament twice this century. North Carolina (10-13, 3-9), assuming it doesn’t win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, will miss the NCAA Tournament for the second time in 17 years.

No.1 Baylor is historically a bad NCAA Tournament bet. But the Bears won their 20th straight, a 78-70 win over Oklahoma State, so what’s to worry?

Baylor was a dismal 20-of-33 (60.6 percent) from the foul line. They are 206th in the nation with a 69.7-percentage in free throw shooting. Do you want them in a close first-round game that gets decided at the line?

Remember John Calipari’s 2007-08 team? Terrible all year from the line. Derrick Rose missed 1-of-2 free throws with 10 seconds left in regulation of the NCAA  title game. Mario Chalmers hit a 3 to force OT. Kansas won, 75-68. The Tigers were 12-of-19 (63.2 percent) from the game from the line. The Jayhawks were 14-of-15 (93.3).

MARCH WITH POINT GUARDS: Yes, I’m a firm believer of point guard play translating into tournament success. Dayton has a legit player of the year candidate in PF Obi Toppin. But in a 71-65 win over St. Louis, Toppin wasn’t his usual dominant self. Point guard Jalen Crutcher came to the rescue by making 8-of-8 free throws. He’s an 84.7-percent shooter from the line.

Which brings us to Duke, fresh off its stunning 98-96 OT win at North Carolina. The Blue Devils erased a 13-point deficit in the final four and one-half minutes and a five-point deficit in OT. Guard Tre Jones had 28 points, six assists and five rebounds, which is about as good as it gets, but not as good as LSU’s…

Skylar Mays, who had 30 points (10-for-10 from the line), eight assists, seven rebounds and just one turnover in 42 minutes of a 91-90 loss at Auburn. Auburn (21-2, 802) leads the SEC largely because the Tigers have the green light to shoot 3’s from anywhere on The Plains.

 Before you but Auburn consider its 31.6-percent shooting on 3’s, tied for 275th in the nation. If Auburn is hot in the tourney, War Eagle! But one off game and it’s time for spring football. Just ask Iowa, which….

Got dusted 104-66 at Purdue. The Hawkeyes have the nation’s most consistent inside player in center Luke Garza, who is one-tenth of a point away from averaging a points-rebounds double-double. Whoever faces Iowa in the tourney will have to drop down try to keep the ball out of Garza’s hands, which means open 3’s should be there.

 HOLD IT LIKE AN EGG: San Diego State is the nation’s last unbeaten team (24-0). The Aztecs are 13-0 in the Mountain West, the best start in conference history. In the Aztecs 89-74 win over Air Force, they committed a season-low six turnovers, one in the final 31 minutes and none in the final 21. The Aztecs are 8th in assist/turnover.  

STREAKS, OVER: Seton Hall has a northeast guard in Myles Powell who can flat out take over a game. But the best thing about these Pirates is the way they play. They are a throwback Big East team in terms of mental and physical toughness. Their 70-64 win at Villanova snapped a 17-game road losing streak to the Wildcats. Elite Eight, not so sleeper.

Kentucky has won 9-of-11 since losing two straight including W’s against Texas Tech and Louisville. The Wildcats won at Tennessee for the first time since Rick Barnes took over as head coach. Kentucky is tied for 6th in the nation in free throw shooting at 78.7-percent.

WELL DONE: The following coaches have done a great job.

Mick Cronin, UCLA – the Bruins will never dominate college hoops as they once did but Cronin, who re-established Cincinnati as a national power, is off to a 12-10 start (5-4 in the Pac 12) in his first season. With Arizona shaken by scandal, look for the Bruins to quickly return to the top of the league.

Joe Mihalich, Hofstra – Basketball fans in the Northeast know Mihalich’s Niagara teams were a bitch to play against. So are his Hofstra teams. The Pride (18-7) is in first place in the Colonial Athletic Association, playing the same fundamentally sound ball the Purple Eagles played. Mihalich is 133-91 in his seventh season on Long Island, 45-15 over the last two seasons.

Chris Mack, Louisville – It shouldn’t be hard to win at Louisville but if you don’t succeed there is a one-way ticket to a mid-major program and a lot less money. Big East fans know what a solid person, father, coach Mack is. He took over Louisville which was a mess and won 20 games last season. Mack has the Cardinals atop the ACC with a 12-1 record (21-3 overall)

Steve Pikiell, Rutgers – It’s been impossible to win at Rutgers. Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights found themselves in an unfamiliar position Sunday night in the RAC. They trailed Northwestern by 18. It was arguably one of the first time Rutgers, as a heavy favorite, didn’t take an opponent seriously.

The Scarlet Knights rallied in the second half to eke out a 77-74 OT win and remain undefeated at home and just 1.5 games back for the Big Ten lead. Pikiell has instilled a true team culture. One of his first big recruits, Gio Baker, now comes off the bench. He scored 23 of his 25 in the second half to lead the comeback.

SHADES PLEASE: Which was harder to look at? Oregon State’s upset of No.14 Oregon was secured by holding the Ducks without a field goal for nearly nine minutes in the second half. Oregon shot 22-of-55 from the field (40 percent) which isn’t horrendous. Going to the line just four times (and only making two) is. Or…

UCLA held No.23 Arizona to its worst shooting game in the McKale Center’s 47-year history. The Wildcats shot 15-of-59 from the floor (25.4-percent). They missed all 12 of the second half 3’s. Or…

West Virginia missed 20-of-31 layups in a 69-59 loss at Oklahoma. The Mountaineers were 24-of-76 from the field (31.6-percent).

“Seems impossible, but we missed 22 shots within two feet of the basket,” said WVA coach Bob Huggins.

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March Madness is Just What Major League Baseball Needs

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

File photo Neil Miller/The New York Extra

  Pitchers, catches and cheaters report in less than four weeks.

The winter stretch from late-January to March has traditionally been a slow spell in sports. That’s one recent Sports Illustrated used to give us the swimsuit edition in February. Now it’s May. Enough of that.

This is not your typical year. MLB is giving us the Rocky Horror Sign Stealing Show.  Need to focus on the something less tainted? Consider this:

 Based on the many college basketball results in this week alone we’ve seen enough head-scratching results to make a safe bet, (sorry MLB)  that this has the potential to be the most maddening, thrilling, impossible to predict NCAA Tournament in recent time – if not all time.

Considered these results:

Unranked Alabama crushed No.4 Auburn, 83-64.

No. 18 Seton Hall slapped No.5 Butler, 78-70 in Indianapolis. South Carolina stunned No. 10 Kentucky, 81-78. Fear not Kentucky, here’s as good a place as any to point out that the Gamecocks got plucked by Northern Iowa, 78-72.

Struggling Georgetown edged No. 25 Creighton, 83-80.

Clemson shocked No. 3 Duke, 79-72.

Wisconsin tripped up No.17 Maryland, 56-54.

Minnesota banged No. 19 Michigan, 75-67.

Oregon State humbled No. 24 Arizona, 82- 65.

And Purdue humiliated No. 8 Michigan State, 71-42.

Defending national champ Virginia is not ranked.

Indiana and Syracuse (see 1987 NCAA National title game finalists) are not ranked.

Man, this his is fun:

Duke was upset at home by Stephen F. Austin, 85-83.

“We played young,” Coach k told reporters. “You gotta get old. You get old by experience, and I can’t teach them to be 22. They’re 18, a lot of them.”

Young gets you beat in the big Dance.

Kentucky fell at home to Evansville, 67-63.

“Stuff like this happens,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told reporters. “You wanna grow from it, you wanna learn from it. We may look back in a couple weeks and say ‘this is the greatest thing that happened to this team.'”

Or not.

Georgia was blown out at Dayton, 80-61.

“I knew we were going to be coming in against a whole different level of intensity, physicality, the way guys play,” Bulldogs coach Tom Crean told reporters. “That’s where we’re at and we got exposed by that.”

Exposed.

LSU got manhandled at home by East Tennessee State, 74-63.

“Obviously, this was a tough night,” LSU coach Will Wade told reporters. “East Tennessee had a great game plan. They shrunk the paint on us and then just pinned their ears back and killed us on the offensive glass. They got 15 more shots than we did and that really, really hurt us. It was too much for us to overcome.”

Killed us.

Boston College has become an attractive game for every mid-major, having lost to St. Louis, 64-54, and Richmond, 64-44. Richmond also owns a 93-92 win over Vanderbilt.

Santa Clara might be pushing for membership in the Pac 12 after knocking off Washington St., 70-62 and Cal, 71-52.

And our most convincing argument for March insanity is this:

North Carolina isn’t even listed in ‘Others Getting Votes.” North Carolina. Take that Rob Nelson, Channel 7!

“I want to apologize to all the North Carolina fans, the people that care about our basketball program, former players, everyone that cares about us,” Roy Williams said after a 79-76 home loss to Clemson, which had lost 60 straight to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.

Why apologize? It’s not like anyone cheated. In fact, North Carolina could have a starring role in the maddest March of all time.

Four Things We Learned From the Champions Classic

credit twitter

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

  By now you have learned certain things in life are meaningless.

  The fortune inside the cookie. Meaningless.

  The LCD boards in every subway station. Meaningless.

  ToyotaThon…You get it.

  Such is the case with preseason college basketball rankings. Pathetically, utterly meaningless.

   Michigan State, one of the nation’s premier programs, came into the season with its first-ever preseason No.1 ranking under coach Tom Izzo. That lasted all of one game.

  The Spartans were upended by No.2 Kentucky, 69-62, Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in The Garden. No. 4 Duke technically upset No.3 Kansas, 68-66, in the other game.

“There’s a chance we could be ranked No. 1 for the first time in the history of our school to start out the season, which means — unfortunately — nothing,” Izzo said at the team’s media day.

Why the sport continues this tradition isn’t a mystery. The angst of the rankings makes for a lot of headlines and handwringing. A lot of diehard college hoop fans don’t start paying attention until January so this is good for the sport – theoretically.

The coach of the team picked No.1 usually reacts in one of two ways:

Exasperated indignation: “Obviously no one has seen us practice. If they did, we might not be in the Top 25.”

Or, outright dismissal: “Doesn’t mean a thing. If we’re No.1 at the end of the season, then I’ll be excited.”

The early rankings are more meaningless than ever, fortunately, because they don’t matter when it comes time to select the 68 teams that make the NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA, masters of making the simple complicated, introduced the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) last season. Although it relies too much on analytics for my taste, it is as objective as an IRS accountant.

The NET is comprised of five valuations – team value index, net efficiency, winning percentage, adjusted win percentage and scoring margin.

The team value index rewards teams that beat good teams. It takes into account the opponent, location and outcome.

Net efficiency is a team’s offensive efficiency minus its defensive efficiency. Waaay to nerdy for me.

Winning percentage is just that.

Adjusted win percentage factors in location of games and result.  A road win is worth 1.4. A home loss is -1.4. A neutral site loss, such as the Champions Classic, is +1 or -1

Scoring margin is a team’s total points minus its opponent’s points. The winning margin was capped at 10 points per game so it doesn’t matter if the Spartans beat Binghamton by 12 or 50 in its next game. (Disclaimer: author is a Stony Brook grad).

So what did we learn about the nation’s top four  ranked teams. Oops, those rankings.

Izzo has decided to challenge the best player on what might be his best team. After guard Cassius Winston scored a game-high 21 points (1-of-7 on 3’s) and had just four assists, Izzo had this to say to ESPN.

 “Cassius was a little tired tonight,” he said. “I was surprised because he’s in really good shape.”

 Calipari said he didn’t start freshman Tyrese Maxey because he wanted his five-star recruit to come off the bench firing. Maxey had a game-high 26 points on 7-of-12 shooting. More impressive is that the freshman got to the line 10 times in his first college game, making nine.

His 3 with a minute left proved to be the game winner. Don’t expect Maxey to be coming off the bench for long.

“What I saw today is what I saw in high school,” Calipari said. “I [had] not seen it to this point. I’m in practice, where’s the sniper that I recruited? … But the two days prior to this, all I talked about was you be that sniper — play. We need you to get baskets for us.”

Duke has been a perennial power under Coach K because of one word – defense. Yes, teams usually look bad on offense this early in the season but that doesn’t excuse the 28 turnovers Kansas committed.

 If the Dukies, who shot 35.9 percent from the field (Kansas shot 46-percent0 weren’t this relentless on defense, they don’t eke out the two-point win. Which means Duke’s offense has a loooong way to go. Freshman Cassius Stanley was the only Duke player to shoot 50-percent or better from the field.

‘Overall, we were able to stay fairly fresh defensively,’’ said Krzyzewski. “And that’s gonna have to be a key for our basketball team.”

Bill Self certainly wasn’t laughing on the inside after those 28 turnovers. When asked if it was a positive sign that his Jayhawks only lost by two, he quipped, “I guess if you are Tony Robbins you could look at it that way.”

Kansas has NBA-type height in the 7-foot Uduke Azubike, 6-10 David McCormack, 6-9

Silvio De Soussa, 6-8  Tristain Enaruna and 6-5 Marcus Garrett.  The Jayhawks outrebounded Duke, 40-30.

But if the Jayhawks don’t get better point guard play, that height gets negated. Devon Dotson (six turnovers, one assist) was outplayed by Duke’s Tre Jones (seven assists, three turnovers).